By Ashley White, MD, MPH
This winter, several members of my family gathered at my parents’ home on Paudash Lake to coax 2016 to a close. Everything was coated in a sturdy layer of snow for the first time in quite a few years. Like fondant on a wedding cake, the roof, the lawn, the lake, the trees, the walkway, and the roads looked fresh, clean and in waiting. A cousin said coming to Paudash was like her version of visiting Aspen, a chic Colorado Rockies ski town. All weekend, my mother referred to our home as “Aspen” and delighted in the idea of her place being a winter escape in which people could revel, never mind simply endure.
In the city, where I spend most of the winters, what you see is what you get. The houses basically always look like houses, the buildings always look like buildings and roads like roads. The point of city life is to keep moving despite Mother Nature and that requires lifting her snowy offerings up and off the sidewalks. There is no winter mask like the ones we get up in cottage country.
But at home on the Lake, winter can take you to Aspen, to Zurich, to Revelstoke, to Kelowna, to Fargo, to Salzburg or to Jackson Hole. It wraps you up and settles you down while also stimulating creativity and optimism. Your eyes need to settle on a scene to figure out what’s really happening; are those tracks I see leading into the skeleton forest? Of what? Not sure! Are those fishing huts in order or are they abandoned? Not sure! Let’s imagine their story.
Thinking about an “Aspen” winter when I was home over the holidays helped me shift perspective on winter to a more grateful, hopeful one. In Return to Tipasa, French author and journalist Albert Camus writes, “In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” The book is about some time he spent in Algeria so we know he wasn’t talking about actual winter. He was talking about resilience and grit. I recognize that feeling in how I think about winter in the country. It’s no doubt harder and more complicated but it can burn just as brightly as summer. We can turn our heels on the dark days, the cold air – if the hydro bills stabilize - and allow the canvas of winter to inspire us.
One of the ways we can help each other through winter is just that: help each other. Wander through the local shops in town. Check in on an elderly person who may be surviving on tea and toast. Start a snow plow cooperative in your neighbourhood, where everyone pitches in for a plow and everyone takes turns clearing each others’ driveways. Have a roving potluck where you wander through the neighbourhood having parts of a meal at every stop. Have a tiny house concert. My parents hosted a great local musician from Peterborough, Rick Fines, to come up on a Sunday night in January and everyone pitched in a few bucks for the performance. Thirty people crammed into their small living room and it was joyful.
Help people who don’t use the internet to find affordable items they need on Kijiji or Craigslist. Open yourself up to making winter feel good in your bones, because it can.
Ashley White grew up on Paudash Lake. Read more of her writing at www.amindfull.ca